Without doubt, the mountains and rivers have shaped the evolution of Hope's history and culture, from its still rich bounty of salmon to its vital transportation routes.
First Nations heritage
Winding down from the Interior Plateau through the canyon to Hope and across the floodplain to the Pacific Ocean, the Fraser River was the life blood the First Nations Sto:lo people, translated as "people of the river." They called the area "Where the River Widens" and named Hope "Ts'qo:ls", meaning "bare" or "bald" which referred to the trees that the winds often sculpted bare on one side.
Sto:lo First Nations
The Sto:lo First Nations were accomplished hunter-gatherers who fished for salmon, harvested the forests and traded over great distances. Through archaeology, evidence confirms their continuous occupation of the region for at least 9,000 years. This is best seen on Greenwood Island across from Hope. Having never had physical European contact, current excavations are revealing remnants of an entire settlement in its original state; some artifacts are displayed at the Hope Museum.
It was the discovery of gold that forever changed the region's economic and cultural traditions.
Although Simon Fraser was the first explorer to visit the region in 1808, it wasn't until 1848 when the Hudson's Bay Company established a fur trading fort here did Hope commercial viability come to light. Ten years later during the Fraser River and Cariboo gold rushes, it quickly rose to prominence as a gateway city to riches.
The First Nations had, in fact, already been trading gold, furs and salmon with the British forts at Hope and Yale, in exchange for goods such as hunting rifles, cooking pots and steel tools. But once the word had spread of the river's bounty, American prospectors arrived by the thousands, seemingly overnight.
Xwelitems or Hungry People
They poured into the Canyon's narrow confines overrunning First Nations villages, often stealing food and property, and sometimes even killing any opposition. The Sto:lo called these gold craving miners the Xwelitems, or Hungry People.
The influx of so many Americans into British-claimed territory also did something more: it forced British authorities to legislate the New Caledonia region with crown colony status.
This not only affirmed British sovereignty on the area – the 49th parallel had only been established a few years earlier in 1846, it also flexed British jurisdiction over lands largely administered by the Hudson Bay Company. By 1866, it joined with the colony of Vancouver Island to become the Colony of British Columbia.
Arrival of the Railway
Shortly thereafter, the Canadian Pacific's new trans-continental railway saw the arrival of still more prospectors only this time, many stayed. The community of Hope grew to a township of some "30 or 40 houses, beautifully situated in a large flat with a magnificent amphitheatre of mountains behind," and fishing, agriculture and logging grew as its mainstay industries.
Over the next 50 years, Hope became a central hub for travelers to and from all directions. Wagon trails – and later highways, were driven to the east, north and south. The Canadian National Railway built a line through the canyon into Hope, while their competitors, the Canadian Pacific Railway, extended a spur line, the Kettle Valley Railway, that crossed the Fraser River to Hope, through the Coquihalla and into the southern interior. Today, parts of it can be explored at the Othello Quintette Tunnels.
For more information on Hope's First Nations and pioneer history, visit The Hope Museum at the Visitor Centre. Displays include exhibits on Simon Fraser, the fur trade and gold rush days.